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CAMPUS CLOSEUPMahbub Rashid - Associate professor of design

R. Steve Dicki/University Relations

Mahbub Rashid, associate professor of design, speaks with a student in his office. Rashid researches how design of office and classroom settings can affect everything from creativity, to productivity and learning.

Years at current job: Two years.

Job duties: I teach and advise undergraduate interior design and graduate design and architecture students. I also conduct environmental design research with colleagues at KU and other universities, and serve on academic and/or administrative committees, as well as maintain working relations with the industry. Helping promote institutional image at the national and international levels through scholarly publications and presentations is another area of responsibility.

Your work combines architecture and design. How do the two relate in topics such as office settings? For the sake of simplicity, I suggest that all design situations involve solving some kind of problems related to interactions amongst humans, technology and/or space. Depending on our design professions, we focus on interactions between humans and technology, humans and space, or technology and space. There are even others amongst us who focus only on interactions between different groups of humans, technology or space. Viewed in this manner, the fact that my work combines architecture and design is natural. In designing any kind of built environment such as office settings, it is necessary that we consider different kinds of interactions at various environmental scales. I have chosen office settings as one of my areas of interests, because these settings are a very important part of our everyday life. Most working adults spend most of their waking hours in office settings. These settings have also provided me with sufficient amount of complexity and challenge. They are not boring as design and research problems.

Have you found that effective office layout can affect productivity? Productivity is a complex concept. Today's high-performing organizations want to improve effectiveness as opposed to efficiency; outcomes as opposed to outputs. They are fully cognizant of the peculiar nature of knowledge workers. They like to empower knowledge workers and like them to take the lead. These organizations do not want to dictate how knowledge workers should work. As a result, intangible aspects, like organizational culture, have become important for productivity. There is no one office design or layout that meets all needs of every organizational culture. Office design must respond to the culture of an organization and must help this culture to evolve, if designers want to make an impact on organizational productivity.

You are the principal investigator of a project funded by furniture company Herman Miller regarding the effect furniture can have on student learning. How does classroom furniture effect learning? In this quasi-experimental study, funded by Herman Miller, we studied the effects of university classroom design on learning behaviors and outcomes. Two different classrooms one traditional and the other non-traditional - were used in the study. Both these rooms were located in the Art and Design Building. The traditional classroom had a fixed front with desks arranged in rows. The non-traditional classroom had no fixed-front, and had adjustable and movable furniture that could easily be reconfigured to meet various needs of the class. The size, shape, location, and indoor environmental conditions of these two classrooms were similar.

One instructor taught the same course to the same group of students in both classrooms. For eight weeks, she used the traditional classroom. For another eight weeks, she used the non-traditional classroom. During these periods, students' and instructor's behaviors were recorded using a time-sampling observation method. Student behaviors included both on-task and off-task behaviors. Instructor's behaviors included her teaching styles and movement patterns. Students also filled out questionnaires on their learning styles, motivation levels and classroom experience in both classrooms.

The study showed that in the non-traditional classroom students interacted more with the instructor and other students; the instructor moved less for instructional purposes and gave more learning freedom to students; student perception of classroom environment improved along most design dimensions of the classroom; and students' expectation regarding classroom amenities increased sharply.

You co-created and have co-ownership of Spatialist, an architecture software program used by many universities. What can this software be used to accomplish? As a doctoral student at Georgia Tech, I worked as a lead researcher on the "Design Decision Support System" project funded by the Georgia Tech Research Foundation. The aim of the project was to develop techniques of building layout analysis taking into account properties of shape and spatial configuration. The project resulted in the creation of the building layout analysis software, known as Spatialist. The software uses MicroStation as its platform, and includes a set of routines for the analysis of linear representations of spatial configuration, the automatic generation and analysis of convex partitions, and the representation of visual fields. The software was licensed to about 20 universities in Europe, Latin America and the USA through the Georgia Tech Research Corporation.

What do you enjoy most about your profession? The thing I enjoy most about my profession is the opportunity I have to make positive impacts on our built environment as an educator, a researcher and a design professional. An increasing amount of empirical evidence suggests that our perception, behavior, society and culture are constantly shaped by the built environment at all scales. Using rigorous research tools and techniques, I study the mechanisms of design effects in different kinds of built environment including healthcare settings, workplaces and educational environments. It is extremely gratifying for me when the empirical evidence generated through my work help improve our built environment.

What are some aspects of your job others might not realize you're involved with as a designer? The traditional notion of design and creativity as acts of a creative genius does not represent the reality of a designer. Good designs are innovative responses to social, cultural and/or intellectual problems. The analogy of a player playing a game is apt in explaining the process of design. A player cannot play without knowing the rules of the game. I once heard that all great chess players learn all the great moves of most great plays. It is said that they replay these moves in their head to devise their own moves. Like chess players, designers, who seek innovative ways to solve human problems, must also know the rules of a design situation. Unlike the mistakes made by a chess player, however, the mistakes made by a designer can be grave because they may affect many people.

Your classes have visited buildings on campus such as the Student Health Center to study/assess their layout. What have been the results of your work on campus? During my last two years at KU, I have made it one of my teaching goals to give students a first-hand experience of designing interior environments for real clients. Last year, my students redesigned the common areas of the Watkins Health Center. This year, my students are redesigning the workplace of the Office of University Relations in the Wesley building at the Lawrence campus. These projects help students gain direct access to the client; give them opportunities to interact with building users; and help them learn how to discover design problems and generate design solutions within real physical, social and cultural constraints. For the clients, these projects help them redefine their design briefs and visions. A few of the last year's projects were also displayed at the Watkins Health Center for users to study and develop consensus regarding their vision.

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